Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Ashley!

My name is Ashley Hoyng and I am thirty-one and live in Columbus, Ohio. I work as a project manager and am active in my community. I have a big heart and always looking for ways to give back others. I am involved in the National Kidney Foundation and Donate Life as an ambassador.

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Many do not know my story, but I realized I needed to share it to spread more awareness about organ donation. I realized that by not sharing my story, I was losing out on the opportunity to educate others about organ donation.

My first real experience with organ donation was when a young girl from my area needed a kidney. She had all her family tested but no one was a match, so her mom then created a Facebook group to reach out to the community for a living donor. The idea intrigued me, and I felt inspiration from it, I could help save a life while we both were still living, to me it seemed like a no-brainer. I then began to research living donation and couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I gave the idea much thought and decided to reach out to this young girl’s Facebook page to volunteer to be tested. But by the time I reached out, the transplant center had two potential donors and because of insurance reasons, they couldn’t even start me with the testing process. I was disappointed but knew in my heart it was something I wanted to do. I continued to do research on living organ donation and how I could go about it without knowing who my recipient would be. During my research process, I came across a group called, “Living Kidney Donors Network“. After discussions with the other living donors and research, I knew I was ready to start the next step of the process.

 

I made the decision in late 2013 to join The Ohio State University Transplant Program as an altruistic living kidney donor.

 

I had my orientation in January of 2014. It was a day full of information. I also met with social workers, psychologists, surgeons, nurses, coordinators, and many other people. I also went through many tests, including cat scans, urine tests, blood work, EKG, basically the best physical of my life. I had to have all my lab work and tests come back okay to move forward, luckily, in my case they did.  I wanted to move forward with the process of being a donor, but I had to be reviewed and approved by The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center Transplant Board. On March 13th, I received my approval letter in the mail. I had no idea when my case was being presented to the board, but I think it was better that way. The letter in the mail was such a great surprise! I couldn’t believe it!

I was in close contact with the transplant coordinator throughout the entire process. I learned in May that the transplant team had found a match and surgery was going to be scheduled for July 22, 2014. At this point in my journey, the only people who knew about my decision were my mom and sister. I didn’t want to overwhelm anyone about my decision and things could always change, with the many variables playing into factor. Therefore, in June I decided to write a letter to my family (aunts/uncles, grandparents, cousins) to inform them of my decision. I asked them to keep it amongst themselves because, at the time, I lived in a very small town (less than 2000 people) and didn’t want to make this a big deal, that is not why I chose to do this. My family was so supportive, I think a little shocked at first but supportive.

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Ashley and her sister at the pinwheel garden at Ohio State

I was in the hospital for four days total, I was admitted the night before my surgery and released three days later. My time in the hospital went very well, I was walking on day two and feeling good, just tired but that was expected. I was able to walk around the transplant unit and see how recent recipients were feeling and the new light in their eyes. Moments like that really hit home and I knew I had chosen the right place to donate. The morning after my surgery, the surgeons came in and told me that my kidney was working like a “thunder god,” for my recipient, I was thrilled to hear this news. I would do this again in a heartbeat if I could.
My recipient and I had made the decision to meet one another. We originally were going to meet at the first follow up appointment, but it did not work out. I gave the transplant team my information for him to reach out. At this point, all I knew was that he was a male and 33 years old. He did reach out a few months after surgery via email sharing his story with me and asking me to share mine. He was very interested in why I donated to a stranger. To me that was a simple answer, to save someone’s life. My recipient and I met about nine months post-surgery. We remain in contact, we both live in the Columbus area.

Ashley and her recipient at the first transplant reuinion in 2015
Ashley and her recipient at the first transplant reunion they attended in 2005

Over the last year, I realized that I cannot “hog” my story. In April of 2018, I attended the Living Donor Event in Chicago and individuals from all over the world attended. It was a great event, I was able to connect with other donors, recipients and many great organizations. I have spoken to local newspapers to share my story and spread awareness to others. I have a living donor pin on my backpack which most times will initiate conversation with others while I am out, therefore I am able to share my story and help spread further awareness. In addition, this year I have joined as an ambassador with the National Kidney Foundation and Donate Life (Lifeline of Ohio).

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I learned through my donation, that I was not just donating to one person, I was donating to everyone that loved him. To me, living donation was a no brainer, I wish I would’ve learned of it sooner. I wish I could do it again and give someone else the chance to continue to experience this beautiful life. I would love one day to donate part of my liver.

 

As far as the athletic side of myself, I played volleyball and basketball growing up. I was in decent shape but not the best shape I could have been. After high school is when I realized how important it is to take care of our bodies and I kicked myself into gear. I became a vegetarian for six years and lost 40 pounds. It helped me to make better decisions when choosing food. I started to work out more and incorporated it into my daily routine even when traveling for work. For a couple of years, I pretty much lived in hotels each week for work, so working out was necessary especially when you must eat out every meal. My energy level was good before surgery, I mean I was tired like a normal person between travel and everyday life. But I wouldn’t say my energy level was low.

 

My energy level post-surgery was low to start out with, but your body goes through a pretty big change. I started walking a few days after I was out of the hospital and continued to do so during my recovery. It was the summer, so I was able to walk outside and keep active. I started to do full workouts six months after surgery. I did not experience any major hurdles when I started working out. My body did feel a little different, but I had not been working out. I think that is why my body was having a hard time adjusting again. I took it easy after surgery, let my body heal fully.

 

I do not feel any different than before my surgery. I am healthier now than I have been in my life. I realize how important it is to stay active and eat healthily. I do not take any precautions now, I never participated in physical contact sports in adult life, so I do not fear that my remaining kidney will get injured. I took up running over the last year, it is such a great release. I ran my first quarter marathon in April of 2019 and hope to run a half marathon later this year. More than anything, I just listen to my body, if it needs rest then I give it rest.

Ashley and her recipient at the transplant reunion
Ashley and her recipient at the transplant reunion

I am training for Pelotonia. It is a bike ride here in Columbus, Ohio. 100% of every single dollar raised is directed to life-saving cancer research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center-James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. I am doing the 25-mile route but you can choose through 200 miles to ride for this cause.

Being a living donor has helped me realize my passion in life, to continue to help others. I have been blessed with a great support system who stand beside me in everything that I do. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to begin the living donation journey. I have met so many wonderful people along the way and I look forward to what else this journey holds. My only wish is that I had more kidneys to donate to help others.

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